Chestnuts and Blueberries Risotto
With fall looming upon us, my cravings are for comfort food. Nothing better than risotto, ready in 25 minutes, delicious in its basic version, a blank canvas for your imagination. Today’s recipe is a modern twist on the classic one, with the addition of blueberries and chestnuts. While we have all learned what an extraordinary contribution berries give to our diet – thanks to their high level of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals – chestnuts are a bit less common, especially in the U.S.
In Italy and in southern Europe in general, there was a longstanding tradition of foraging chestnuts in the wild, keeping them for the winter either refrigerated or dried or boiled and reduced to flour. Chestnuts have constituted for centuries one of the few sources of sustenance in winter for myriads of people, free to be picked from the Castanea sativa tree, of which they are the fruits. They saved scores during the worst European famines.
Chestnuts are rich in vitamin C (hence their value to fight scurvy in the Middle Ages), magnesium, and fiber, which balances out the carbohydrates; and they contain a good amount of protein. They are low in fat and gluten-free. With a sweet and satisfying taste, they have nonetheless a very low glycemic index. They can be made into bread, soup, side dish, dessert, snack. Can be roasted, boiled, pureed, grinded into flour.
The season for fresh chestnuts is October-December. Chestnuts do not present the same allergens as the rest of the tree nut family. Their classification is ambiguous though, and countries classify them differently: in the U.S. they must be included in the food allergy labels list, but not in the U.K., or Canada, or Australia.
When not in season, you can buy roasted chestnuts in a jar or vacuum packed: a great and easy substitute to fresh chestnuts, available all year round.
For 4 Servings
1 cup Carnaroli rice
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of EV Olive Oil
½ glass of white table wine
1 pint chicken stock preprepared (or vegetable stock)
1 cup rinsed blueberries
1 cup roasted chestnuts or more, chopped in big pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese (optional)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano
1/3 cup shaved Parmigiano
Some parsley for decoration
Salt and Pepper
1. Quickly sauté the berries for 1-2 minutes with a teaspoon of EV olive oil in the same pot where you will be cooking the rice, set aside.
2. Bring the chicken or vegetable stock to a gentle boil in a different pot.
3. Sauté the chopped onion in EV Olive Oil for 2-3 minutes, being careful that it does not get too dark. Set aside.
4. Add a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to the same pot, when warm add the rice and stir rapidly with a spatula. This is a delicate stage: you must toast the rice kernels without burning them. If you do not stir furiously, the rice will stick to the bottom and will burn or get an uneven coloration. It takes a couple of minutes to get the kernels translucent, but still with a visible white core.
5. At this point, lower the flame and add the white wine. It will make a very loud noise and smoke and will evaporate almost right away.
6. Add immediately enough stock to cover the rice, but no more than that. Keep stirring, making sure the rice does not stick to the bottom or to the wall of your pot.
7. When all the stock is absorbed, and you can see the bottom of the pot when you stir the rice, add more stock to cover the rice. Keep stirring and adding stock as needed.
8. After 16-18 minutes add the berries except 2 tablespoons.
9. Now you should start to be careful: taste the rice to judge how much more liquid it will need to be ready, but on the hard side. If you add too much liquid when the rice is almost ready, it will take too long to absorb the extra liquid, and your risotto will result overcooked.
10. When the rice is almost cooked, after approximately 20-22 minutes, add the chopped chestnuts except a couple of tablespoons for decoration, keep stirring.
11. Turn off the flame when the liquid is almost completely absorbed, and the rice is soft but still a bit chewy.
12. Add butter, gorgonzola cheese, a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmigiano, adjust salt, stir one last time until everything is combined. Let it rest for 3-4 minutes, covered. Enough time to “mantecare” the rice: to absorb the excess liquid and get the ultimate creaminess through the perfect mix of ingredients.
13. Plate and decorate with some more berries and chestnuts on top, some shaved parmigiano and chopped parsley. Eat immediately!!
A Few Notes:
- Vegetarian if vegetable stock is used.
- Use a Dutch oven to cook the risotto, preferably non-stick
- Carnaroli rice is my preferred variety for making risotto. It keeps the perfect texture and shape during the cooking process, and it results in a particularly creamy risotto. If you can’t find it, it can be substituted with Arborio or Vialone nano.
- Do not chop the chestnuts in too small pieces, or they will dissolve completely during the cooking process.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.